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Category Archives: Other Art

It was announced the other day that Janus Films has acquired the rights to the entire filmography of Jean Eustache. Which raises the question: is a Criterion boxset, something along the lines of The Complete Jean Eustache, in the works? This seems likely, though until the films get spine numbers or someone fills us non-insiders in, we won’t know for sure.

Either way, this news is extraordinary! A proper restoration and release of these films in some form has been long overdue. Painfully so, in fact. To date, I have only seen a few of them, but would rate them as among some of the best movies to have graced the latter half of the 20th Century. They’re that good.

Conveying the value of the late Eustache’s work to someone who hasn’t seen any of it yet could be difficult. The writer-director seems to have often been preoccupied with emotional states related to matters of the heart, the messiness of male-female relations, but with a more pronounced irreverent streak and less philosophical remove than someone like Eric Rohmer. There’s also the residue of political malaise in the mix. Eustache’s films are cooler than most, sometimes embodying an idling French bohemianism that contemporary directors would have trouble duplicating while maintaining the same watchability. Rather than being flashy, overall the films feel a bit subdued, more true to life in their willingness to be patient with the characters, their peculiar beats, their thoughts and affect, and so on. The screenplays alone, at least those pertaining to the ones I’ve seen, are uncommonly well devised–Bernadette Lafont was on the money when she asserted that that of The Mother and the Whore is worthy of being published in book form. But all of the preceding is just a cursory, early-morning stab at accounting for why these films are deserving of one’s time, something that would (hopefully) become more apparent upon watching them.

Unfortunately what with Eustache’s work being largely out of circulation and underrepresented for so long, its stature has been obscured somewhat, if not exactly in limbo. These films being reissued in one form or another will be a corrective cinephiles the world over can embrace. So keep your eyes peeled!

This past Friday saw the release of a new single, “Stark Geography,” from Tired of Triangles, the on-and-off solo musical concern of mine that began sometime in the mid-2010s. This song, which will most likely factor into an album at some point, can be downloaded on Bandcamp here, as well as streamed on Spotify here, and on YouTube (see video below).

The first Tired of Triangles CD, Up at 4 A.M., was less a definitive statement from me than an attempt to just put together a listenable enough batch of songs that would explore sentiments ranging from “angsty” and insular, to something akin to wee-hour jubilation, however subdued. This is relevant here because “Stark Geography” covers similar territory moodwise, though in this case the shift in tone occurs within a single piece rather than from one song to the next.

Have to duck in here for a second and give a tip of the hat to famed Italian actor Monica Vitti, who passed away today age 90. In her 35-year career Vitti acted in everything from arthouse titles to zany comedies, not to mention the occasional film that combined the two like Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty. Predictably enough, it’s her most well known work with Michelangelo Antonioni that I cherish above all. Am talking here about the monochromatic “Alienation Trilogy” (L’Avventura, La Notte, and L’Eclisse) that ushered in sixties European cinema like a lion (albeit an artfully understated one), as well as Red Desert, a colorful film that came out a couple of years later and directly addressed the toll one’s environment might take on her psyche.

These works have always been somewhat divisive—they are complex, visually involved treatises on “adult” issues, largely within the bourgeois sphere, whose meanings can be elusive for many viewers. Ever since L’Avventura’s premier at Cannes in May of 1960, some in the film world have loved them while others have found them rankling. To someone like me who’s probably seen too many movies for his own good, I can say with confidence that I find this spate of films enduring and nothing short of essential. In conjunction with the films’ strong sense of place and eye for social observation, Vitti’s attenuated beauty, her demure and charisma, has a lot to do with why they’re exemplars of mid-century modernism, the kind of cinema that hadn’t quite existed until then. Simply put, Vitti could be a stunning presence, with facial expressions that could say more than words, often hinting at a discontent or longing under the surface.

While film culture is full of all sorts of underdogs and unsung heroes (behind and in front of the camera) who are worth exploring, in due time, there are some personalities who’ve left a huge mark on it and should be lauded as such. Monica Vitti is one such figure, the sort of actor who worked her way into many a cinephile’s DNA…and we’ve never been the same since. She will be missed.

Reading from Anthony De Mello’s bestseller Awareness, I encountered the following passage:

What I really enjoy is not you; it’s something that’s greater than both you and me. It is something that I discovered, a kind of symphony, a kind of orchestra that plays one melody in your presence, but when you depart, the orchestra doesn’t stop. When I meet someone else, it plays another melody, which is also very delightful. And when I’m alone, it continues to play. There’s a great repertoire and it never ceases to play.

 

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A quick requiescat in pace goes out to the one and only Jean-Paul Belmondo, former boxer, famed French actor who died this week aged 88. Belmondo rose to prominence in the late fifties opposite Jean Seberg as the hangdog gangster in Godard’s debut feature, Breathless, perhaps his most well known role to this day. But this breakout hit overshadowed at least a couple of other noteworthy early appearances, namely his role in Claude Sautet’s underseen Classe Tous Risques (a favorite of Jean-Pierre Melville, and for good reason) and a smaller but well played part in Marcel Carné’s Les Tricheurs, which is sorely in need of a reissue.

Early on, for his troubles, Belmondo earned comparisons to Bogart, though he was more of an athletic performer, a quality that would pair well with the more overtly action movie parts he’d take on in the seventies and eighties. But in the meantime he would act in a couple more Godard films, the prismatic musical romp, A Woman is a Woman, and the sardonic doomed-lovers-on-the-run effort, Pierrot Le Fou, both of which left a big mark on film culture and me personally. Among his many other credits he also worked with Resnais and Truffaut. Though Belmondo and Melville ended up having a falling out over one of the few unmistakable duds in Melville’s oeuvre, Magnet of Doom (only worth the bother after you’ve seen everything else), the actor and director worked on Leon Morin, Priest and Le Doulos, both of which are essential viewing.

Earlier this year I watched and then wrote a review of Henri Veneuil’s Fear Over the City, a movie worth watching for Belmondo’s death-defying stunts alone, and I was absent-mindedly wondering what he’d been up to. He was always a talented and charismatic actor, something of a swashbuckling ladies man at times, with the bravado that implies, but never one to phone it in. He will be missed.

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A quick shout out goes to storied actor Yaphet Kotto, who passed away yesterday at age 81. Kotto made dozens of notable film, television, and stage appearances over several decades, the most widely known likely being his roles in Alien and the James Bond film Live and Let Die. For me his most enduring character (of the ones I’ve caught) was as Baltimore police lieutenant Al “Gee” Giardello in the nineties ensemble drama, Homicide: Life on the Street, described at the time as “the best damn show on television,” and for good reason. Kotto had so many worthwhile quips and performances in this show that it’s hard to single out any one of them. With an imposing physical presence and a disposition that could range from happy-hour affable to angry beyond words, he was the leader of the crack team of detectives who eked out a living doing the thankless task of solving murders in an underfunded, crime-and-corruption-ridden city. H:LotS was an early influence on my dramatic sensibilities, at least a few years before I’d get to see films by the likes of Cassavetes and other notable “actor’s directors” such as Bergman and Fassbinder. The show’s creators and players were unusually skilled at crafting and then bringing to life idiosyncratic but believable dialog, especially during moments of the detectives’ downtime. Kotto brought it, for seven seasons, and the show wouldn’t have been the same without him. And among the many other credits in his filmography, he had a supporting role in Malcolm X’s favorite movie, Nothing But A Man, and a hilarious role as himself, a distinguished black actor failing to flag down a cab (while a white ex-con had no problem!), in the pilot episode of Michael Moore’s show TV Nation. He will be missed.

With my first novel due out in November, the book-related quote I’ve had on my mind most as of late is not from Virginia Woolf or Kafka or Cheever or anyone whose writerly words of wisdom are likely to be found on the excellent website Lit Hub.

Instead I’ve been thinking of this quote from the late stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg:

Every book is a children’s book if the kid can read.

plone-puzzlewood

Clearly I’ve been “in the tunnel” too long, because it somehow escaped my attention that a new Plone album was released this year. And what’s more, it’s really good! Entitled Puzzlewood, it’s a welcome return to form for the British synth-oriented musical concern, who hadn’t officially released music since the nineties. A number of once-defunct bands from the nineties and early aughts have gotten back together somewhat recently and taken another stab at things, but a new album of candy-colored electro exotica from Plone takes the cake as far as things I didn’t think I’d ever hear. Am glad they gave it another go.

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This corner of the internet–Dave J. Andrae’s “Blog”–is now ten years old. A lot can happen in ten years, and a lot can not happen in ten years.

Here is the view out the window ten years ago:

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And here is the same view now:

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(The house was repainted, and we put new palm trees in place of the dying ones, among other things.)

My first post here occurred after Robert on his Lunch Break was cut together and I’d begun submitting it to festivals. At that point I only had an inkling as to how difficult it would be to get it shown outside my tiny social circle, in front of the sort of audiences who might value such a thing. Being couched in youthful idealism still, and also being more than a little naive about the ways of the world, I didn’t quite understand what a tough proposition it would be for mass audiences, or even the supposedly liberated ones who might flock to independent and “experimental” film showcases. Even recently, when I watched Robert on his Lunch Break for the first time in ages before writing a review of it, the movie didn’t fully click and I had to watch it again the next day to really lock into it. So I guess now it makes perfect sense to me that this particular creative vision, and even a much more palatable effort like The Plants Are Listening are too obscure in stature and sensibilities to gain much traction in the world. That won’t stop me from keeping most of my films available on Vimeo for anyone who wants to see them, for the indefinite future.

But at some point during these protracted attempts to find larger audiences for these works, it dawned on me that I only have so much patience for shepherding, that the pleasure of working on something and then beholding the finished piece once the dust has settled far outweighs the more tedious (and let’s face it, often times demeaning) side of promoting it. I’ve known a lot of other artists who are in the same boat. At some point people like us have to be content with having made something we like, if we’re lucky, and letting the chips fall where they may. Recent events, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the drip, drip, drip of climate change hanging over all of us, have had the effect of rendering somewhat hollow one’s lofty artistic ambitions.

But while we’re here, we’re here. We might as well try to enjoy ourselves and take on the occasional creative challenge, if we can. At the moment I’m deep into my debut novel, as you can see here:

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I have only one chapter left to write before sending it off to a line editor, but the coronavirus and the deluge of bad news in the wake of it have made it difficult to concentrate, even while practicing social distancing and having somewhat minimal responsibilities. Eventually though, if all goes well, the novel will be released in hardcover and eBook. You can expect a work of fiction with a lot more “action” than most of my films, but the usual amount of humor and wit in places.

I was originally tempted to do a rundown of this “blog” and delve into some of its stats and most popular posts and so on, but I think I’ll just let all of that stand as it is. At some point not long after starting to post here, I realized that the general tone here would be a bit more dry and congenial and not as potentially goofy or ardent as it might be for my posting elsewhere on the internet. This might make it seem like my life is more orderly, serene, and free of conflict than it is. Also, it should be noted, this page used to look pretty damn nice as is, but now, without AdBlock it’s an eyesore (Thanks, WordPress!). And you might have noticed by now that I’ve largely stayed away from addressing politics and current events here. The reason being, these things take up a lot of space just about everywhere else on the internet and the bent of this “blog” is mostly tailored for cinephiles, personal friends, and general art enthusiasts.

Kaji bids you “Good day.”

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Here’s to another ten.

maxvonsydow

Legendary Swedish actor Max von Sydow died in his sleep, at age 90. He was the real deal, with a career spanning seven decades; a not-so-secret weapon in Ingmar Bergman’s stable of actors who found success acting in mainstream Hollywood films as well as the European “arthouse” fare he built his name on. The headlines of many eulogies today have made mention of his roles in The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist, but my favorite von Sydow role (of the ones I’ve managed to see thus far) is his part as Karl Oskar in Jan Troell’s must-see double feature, The Emigrants and The New Land. Von Sydow and Liv Ulmann had acted in some Bergman films together, so when it came time to work on this pair of Troell films, they had their on-screen chemistry locked down. Aided in no small part by Troell’s expert-level directing and cinematography, as well as the fertile source material, The Emigrants and The New Land are the most accurate depictions of emigrant and colonial American life I’ve yet to see. I know he acted in all kinds of films, from the brilliant Winter Light (Bergman’s best, in my book) to the likes of Flash Gordon and Minority Report. But these two Troell efforts reaffirm why cinema is even worth bothering with in the first place—Max von Sydow’s nuanced acting, in which micro-expressions could speak volumes, and less was often more, has a lot to do with why they still hold up. Rest in peace.